The essence of every college football fan can be distilled into one simple emotion -- hope. It's an emotion that comes in many different varieties: hoping that a preseason No. 1-ranked team can live up to the hype, hoping that a favorite player can avoid injury and play to his potential, hoping that a team down 17 points at halftime against a rival can rally and win one for the ages. But perhaps no hope is stronger than the kind that manifests as a belief that no matter what happened in the days, weeks or years prior, victory is just around the corner. It's when this most desperate of beliefs is torn asunder that a team and its fans lose any semblance of positive morale, and resign themselves to the bitter choice of writing off the present in exchange for, yes, hoping for better results in the future.
I write this because, at present, it is painfully clear that this is the situation in which the Colorado Buffaloes (1-9, 1-6) find themselves just prior to Thanksgiving 2012. (I don't expect too many Dawg fans to watch this team with any degree of schadenfreude on Saturday, though, considering how closely removed we are from our own program's painful nadir.) Of the 44 players on the offense and defense's two-deep, an astounding 17 are redshirt or true freshman, and another 12 are sophomores. This is simply a team that needs to grow up and become adults before they can compete in a talented conference like the Pac-12, and the biggest question for coach Jon Embree is whether or not the administration will have the patience to give him the time he needs to attempt a turnaround of this once-proud program. One wrench that's thrown into this neat storyline, though, is that the Buffs showed some signs of life by scoring 14 fourth-quarter points (admittedly in garbage time, but points are points) against the Arizona Wildcats. The competitiveness of Saturday's game will rest upon the Buff's ability to carry that momentum over a week and come out firing early.
(Also, a quick note: In the past, I've had separate sections for tight ends and wide receivers. I've found that, for the purposes of these previews, I'm probably better off combining the two, since they seem to complement each other more often than not.)
Quarterback: It's not a promising sign when, entering the season's 10th game, a coach doesn't know which quarterback he'll start, but certainly knows which quarterback won't see the light of day on Saturday morning. On Monday, Embree announced at his press conference that Jordan Webb, who has started every one of the Buffaloes' games so far, will not be the team's first choice to take snaps. Instead, the battle for that task will fall to third-year sophomores Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood, the latter a highly-rated recruit who initially signed with Texas before transferring to Boulder after completing his redshirt year in Austin. Both players are very inexperienced, and either one will make his first true start on the FBS level on Saturday (Hirschman started last year's game against Arizona State, but was relieved of duty in the second quarter). Washington has had very good luck against inexperienced quarterbacks this year with the exception of Oregon's Marcus Mariota (see wins against Stanford and Utah), and it seems reasonable to expect that trend to continue.
Running Back: Colorado primarily deploys true freshman tailback Christian Powell in its ground game, and has seen positive (if inconsistent) results from him. He's posted impressive results against Oregon and Arizona (a combined 52 carries for 258 yards and four touchdowns) and been absolutely blown apart by Fresno State and Stanford (23 carries, 66 yards, 0 scores). With Washington facing its second unproven quarterback in as many weeks, expect UW to repeat its heretofore successful gameplan of selling out to stop the run and forcing the passing game to pick up the slack.
Offensive Line: Perhaps no position group is impacted by age and playing time experience as much as the offensive line, and it is here that Colorado's youth is borne with particular pain. The two-deep of Colorado's line features seven freshman or sophomores and precisely zero seniors, which is undoubtedly a key reason why this unit ranks among the conference's worst in sacks allowed (11th) and tackles for loss allowed (12th). Colorado's line will likely improve markedly in the years to come thanks to the presence of impressive prospects like former Washington commit Stephane Nembot (6-8, 305) and Marc Mustoe (6-7, 280), but the simple truth is that they're not there yet.
Wide Receivers: Colorado is lucky to boast one of the conference's most talented wide receivers in junior Paul Richardson; however, they are decidely unlucky in that they lost him for the year after he suffered an ACL tear during spring practices. In Richardson's absence, the Buffaloes have resorted to a receiver-by-committee approach, leaning most heavily on redshirt freshman receiver Nelson Spruce (34 catches for 348 yards and 2 scores), senior tight end Nick Kasa (20-340-3) and sophomore receiver Tyler McCulloch (26-334-2). All told, the Buffaloes boast eight players with more than 10 catches this year, which ought to bode well for the team's development in the years to come.
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